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Watson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 11, 2019

Leron Nmn Watson, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, finding that plaintiff was not entitled to supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. Plaintiff filed his application for benefits on October 1, 2015. He alleged a March 1, 2012, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.222). Plaintiff's claim was denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.126-29). On August 21, 2017, he received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.50-82). The ALJ issued his decision on December 28, 2017, finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.35-46). On August 1, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.21-23), rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely filed a complaint seeking judicial review. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be overturned on the following grounds:

I. The ALJ failed to properly consider plaintiff's combined impairments.
II. The ALJ failed to adequately consider a treating source's opinion and applied an incorrect legal standard.

(Plf. Brief, 3, ECF No. 10, PageID.428). For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this Court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73; see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion.”).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2015, the application date. (Op., 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.37). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “[d]epression [and] degenerative disc disease with neural foraminal stenosis.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listing impairment. (Id. at 4, PageID.38). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of sedentary work with the following exceptions:

He can sit for six hours, alternate to standing up for 15 minutes, after every 15 minutes of sitting, stand for two hours, alternate to sitting for up to 15 minutes, after every 15 minutes of standing, walking for two hours. He can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can never work at unprotected heights, around moving mechanical parts, or in vibration. He is limited to performing simple, routine tasks and making simple work-related decisions.

(Id. at 6, PageID.40).

         The ALJ found that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (Id. at 7, PageID.41). Plaintiff did not have past relevant work. (Id. at 11, PageID.45).

         The ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert. In response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of plaintiff's age with his RFC, education, and work experience, the vocational expert testified that there were approximately 46, 000 jobs that exist in the national economy that he would be capable of performing. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.77-79). The ALJ found that this ...

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